We have all heard the phrase “They were acting like a two-year-old.” This is usually said about someone who was acting in a way that is more appropriate for a younger age, and it feels immature. That’s because it is! When we were two, we were still learning healthy ways to ask for what we needed, accept it when we couldn’t have our way, and how to deal with disappointment.
The developmental task for a two-year-old is becoming separate, owning their wants and needs that may be different from the others, and saying so. However they don’t do it pretty. They act out: they scream, have a tantrum, they ask please fifty times or shut down-all ways to feel powerful yet look pretty ridiculous to us grownups. All you parents out there also know how STRESSFUL it is to witness one of these meltdowns. They are not fun.
Well imagine how not-fun it is to witness a grown person doing the same type of behavior…having a tirade when they are upset, try to talk us out of our “no” or stop speaking to us. Just quadruple the stress. We get that a young child doesn’t know better – but a grownup? In my last post I talked about how we will get needs met in unhealthy ways if we do not know a better way. If you are having stress in a relationship, it is usually because one of you may be acting out instead of being emotionally honest, and asking for what you need.
We want to talk about the subtle, insidious ways we can act out because they can me the most destructive, simply because they are less concrete and harder to call a person out on. For example, if one sighs loudly and states “I wish someone would help me” without directly asking you for help, you were just manipulated.
Or when you walk away from a conversation saying to yourself “what the heck just happened?” and you feel upset, anxious or frustrated, you probably were manipulated. The bottom line is anything that is not direct and emotionally honest is manipulation because it is indirect and there is nothing to work with. It is disrespectful in that you never have a chance to know what is truly being said, asked for, confronted or owned. It is saying one thing yet meaning another. Again emotional terrorism.
All of this is due to our inability to ask directly for what we need, whether it is to set a boundary, ask for help, for support or to be set free. In order for us to be able to ask directly, we first need to feel safe doing so, that it is healthy and appropriate, and nothing bad will happen. If we were allowed to manipulate most of our life because those around us had poor boundaries, we will think it is normal behavior – and only the “mean” people say no to us and just don’t understand. If we received the message that it is selfish to say no to other as well, we learned it is mean to say no and to hear no.
Healthy is first owning what we need, why we need it and taking steps to take care of our needs without having to cause an earthquake. Without having to yell, attack or belittle.
Without having to reach the point of volcanic eruption. Essentially, without acting from a place of fear. Healthy is also being OK with hearing no, and not taking it personally or feeling rejected.
Healthy is recognizing when we are overwhelmed, stressed and need a break, a nap or a vacation and not take this out on others by being short, irritable or sulking. I always argue that if we each took better care of ourselves, we will ultimately take better care of each other.